Catholic sex: the good, the bad, and the very, very fertile

Gestating in the summer makes me reflect on three things:
39 weeks with Joseph. Or me this time around, 21 weeks, after dinner.

1) the person growing inside me
2) how it got there
3) why is it so blazing hot in my house.

Seriously, I did my dishes with the lights off tonight, just to eliminate any further sources of heat. I'll check my work in the morning.

I've been mulling over two great articles I read this week on Catholics and sex, though they couldn't have come from more disparate situations.

Hallie (who I get to meet at the Edel Gathering this month, wooho! and who admits to being known now as "that Catholic woman who published a book about great sex," ha) would like to hear more from the Church about the "lively celebration" in the bedrooms of us married folk:
Jokes abound about "Catholic prudery" and they cause us to throw back our heads and laugh; have people not seen the size of our families, or the ages of our children? Yes, concerned folks at the grocery store, we do know how that happened. And happened. And happened.
 But the misconception—the disconnect between the reality of joyful Catholic sex and the prude stereotypes—shouldn't shock us that much. We just don't sing the praises of sex nearly enough. I say this not to criticize, but rather to encourage us all to consider this issue and think about ways that we might enact positive change. Rome needs to think about it, too. 
In a less celebratory tone, Calah of Barefoot and Pregnant is fed up with the conflict of Church instruction--which beautifully, rightfully, thankfully says no to artificial contraception--and some lay Church members, who have berated, glared and asked her (and her brood) to sit in cry rooms during Mass (emphasis mine):
The reality is that obedience costs a young couple something — sometimes it feels like it costs us everything. But it seems to cost the larger Church nothing. So little valued is our obedience and the sacrifice it entails that most Catholics don’t even know what the Church teaches on contraception. They’ve never heard it from the pulpit. If they do hear it, they jeer and mock, because the prospect of life without contraception seems so impossible that it’s frankly ludicrous. 
Equally ludicrous are those who embrace it, willingly or no. We are targets of scorn and derision, while the Church stands silently by and watches us suffer to uphold her teaching. Sometimes she even joins in the fray, building “cry rooms” to put us undesirable, multiplying masses out of sight and out of mind; providing nurseries so our children can in fact NOT come to Christ, but be put aside so the grown-ups can come to Christ in peace and quiet; interrupting homilies to ask mothers to leave the Mass with their babies, since the babies are disturbing the rest of the parishioners; in short, treating us as second-class citizens for the crime of actually obeying her teachings.

With Hallie's piece on the joy sex, I get it. Just as it'd be beneficial to shake up the language of NFP to the more clinical-sounding, less-stigmatized "fertility awareness methods," a similar shake up around the language we use to talk about sex within Catholic marriages would mean fireworks. We'd refute the lie (and it indeed is a lie) that monogamous sex, sex that is open to life, free from condoms, pills, rings, trap doors and whathaveyou--is boring. Or that it can't be spontaneous, satisfying, and, yes, really, totally sexy.

I just wouldn't want someone who's on the fence about using NFP in their marriage to think that all Catholic women have nothing but a rosy glow in their bedroom. I'd feel like I sold them a bill of goods. Because great sex in a Catholic marriage must come with what Calah is seeking--obedience. And that obedience is greatly rewarded, yes, with the blessings of a mutually respectful marital relationship and, God-willing, children.

But it's tough. Oh so tough.

It's tough to sing the praises of your contraception-free sex life to a Catholic wife and mother (someone in a situation much like Calah's), who has welcomed a bunch beautiful babies rather closely together, who has tried at least three NFP methods and not found any of them to work well for her body. Or a mother who is desperate to try and delay her next blessing for just a few more months. Or a wife who charts that damned fertile-type mucus from day five to day... 25.

Does she need (or want) to hear other Catholic women raving about how great Catholic sex is? Sure she does. The message we need to share (that the Church wants married couples to have the fulfilling sex they deserve) is an urgent one. But would it be greeted with an eye roll from couples and mothers in the situations described above?

If I were to follow Hallie's brave lead and "share the good news that is married sex," I would begin by saying that good sex, even great sex, in a Catholic marriage has seasons.

First trimester of pregnancy? Bad season.

Second trimester? Hooray!

Baby's first months? Tough times.

Baby starts sleeping through the night? "Lively celebration!"

All signs point to fertile, all the time? A complicated, frustrating season.

Signs become clearer, or a couple finds a way to deal? A better season.

I'm not saying that I think it's as simple as a snap of the fingers for a woman to better understand her fertility signs, or that it's easy for a couple to "just deal" with seemingly-hyper fertility. No. It's a cross for sure, and one that stick around for many moons.

But I do know that with crosses, the only thing you can do is pick them up, and carry them. In time, the weight of some crosses gets lighter; some get heavier and even more back-breaking to carry. But even there, the crosses have seasons, too.

If I've learned one thing by living with Sean's fibromyalgia and degenerative disk disease, it's that he has good days, bad days, awful days, and just days. His cross is still upon us. But I am thankful, so thankful for the seasons when it is lighter. And I beg for mercy and special help from our Lord when it's heavy.

So for physical suffering, or child rearing, or family-size discernment or yes, even great married sex, it's about celebrating the good seasons--and praying through the not-as-fantastic ones.

I know I've only been in this marriage gig for five years now, and I'm sure I'll laugh at my thoughts on sex one day. Right now, this is what I know. It's my good news, from the darkness of my hot house.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Mandi, I think that's what Mary's saying here. That sex is complicated/difficult at many times during life. It's not all wonderful all the time for all couples. I don't think she's singling out people who have different fertility struggles.

    2. Christy, I don't think she's singling anyone else! Just adding my perspective, that's all!

    3. Christy, I rewrote my comment so that maybe it's better stated? Sorry I wasn't clear in what I was trying to say.

  2. I think it's a really hard to get the full picture across. And not only because it's a Catholic issue. I think sex is complicated. And it has been forever until just recently when our culture decided that everything must revolve around sex. I also keep trying to write about it and it feels impossible to me. Or everything I try to write comes off so shrilly. Is that a word? Shrilly?

    1. Oh my gosh Christy, yes (yes that it feels impossible, but I doubt you could EVER sound shrilly, even if you tried!). It's like the subject is so enormous and encompasses so many angles (just as Mandi's pointing out), that it feels as if we should just leave the subject to "the professionals" and keep our mouths shut. But in reality, we are the professionals. We're the ones living this out in Catholic marriages, living through the bedroom crosses, the struggles, all the complications. When it comes down to it, the "Average Mom" probably isn't reading everything "the professionals," say, anyway (though it's really good). They're reading what other moms like us write. I guess that's why I hit publish on this, even though I knew it was far from perfect. It was my first attempt taking a swing at this sex thing. :)

  3. I think the infertile and the subfertile often get left out of the Catholic sex conversation too. Somehow we don't seem to fit into the paradigm.

    And really, I think the whole issue with the topic is that there is too little compassion and empathy. Not enough women (and men) look past their own noses. I'm guilty of this too - I have a really hard time seeing how many children in a burden or a cross. I find myself thinking things like,
    "Children are always blessings, right? How can you be upset about too many blessings?" Which I know is incredibly uncompassionate and selfish - the epitome of not being able to look past my own situation and empathize with others. I don't know how we cultivate more compassion and empathy since I know that they are needed and still I fall into the trap of dismissing the struggles of others (though I always try to correct those sinful thoughts when they cross my mind).

    On the other side of the spectrum, those who have trouble conceiving are often assumed to be having such great sex and so much fun because we don't ever have to worry about getting pregnant (or it's assumed that our family size is due to birth control). Well, believe me, those struggling with infertility don't think about much else than getting pregnant and it's just not that fun to schedule sex during fertile times and come up empty at the end of every cycle.

    So yes, truth and compassion, always necessary.

  4. Five years or not, you have articulated this very well. Especially the seasons thing. Wow. Perfect, helpful and a wonderful addition to The Sinner's Guide......

  5. Thank you for this. The seasons realization is so true. Girl...it's all so hard. Happily Ever After is the worst term...it sets us all up for disenchantment! But when things are good...I am so thankful. Keep writing please as the HS prompts you. God bless! ;)